University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
National Endowment for the Humanities

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

NEH Seminar - Prospectus

NEH Seminar

at the Institute for Historical Research, London, and the University of Nottingham
June 24 to July 27, 2012
Gerard M. Koot, History Department, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

October 24, 2011

Dear Colleagues:

Thanks for your interest in the five-week seminar on interpretations of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, which I will direct in London and at the University of Nottingham, England, from June 24 to July 27, 2010.  I hope you will consider applying to join 16 Summer Scholars from around the country who will study and visit historical sites in England during the summer of 2012. Since our approach will be interdisciplinary, the seminar seeks participants with a wide variety of backgrounds and interests, including those in the arts, literature, history, economics, geography and political science.  In addition to full-time K-12 teachers and graduate students who intend to teach in K-12 schools, librarians and school administrators who also teach are welcome to apply.

The topic and its importance

The purpose of this NEH Summer Seminar is to develop a critical appreciation for the experience of industrialization in Britain, the historiography of the subject, and the lasting influence these interpretations have had on cultural values.  We will study contemporary accounts and seminal historical interpretations.  We will also visit some of the places that experienced the first industrial revolution.  The seminar will allow participants to explore an important subject in some depth, to appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of humanistic studies, to explore connections between the texts and material culture, and to do so in an atmosphere conducive to collegiality, study and reflection.

I chose the subject of the industrial revolution because of its intrinsic importance, the richness of its historiography and material remains, my familiarity with the field, and its prominence in school curricula.  Moreover, I believe that the concept of the human passage from a traditional and agrarian society to an urban and industrial one is central to many of the ambiguities in modern society and even in our own personal lives.  Many of our deepest convictions about philosophy, religion, personal and social values were inherited from a pre-industrial past and often fit uneasily into our industrial present.  Yet, at the same time, modern industrial society has provided us with benefits few would abandon.  As human beings, consciously or unconsciously, our view of the historical experience of industrialization continues to influence our culture.  It is the working assumption of this seminar that, as humanists, we should not leave this crucial subject to be studied only by social scientists, such as economists, but should examine it within the broader framework of humanistic scholarship.

There exists a rich body of writing on British industrialization and a wealth of physical evidence in England illustrating its nature and its consequences. It was the industrial revolution in Britain that first transformed the West and challenged the very existence of traditional societies around the world.  Britain's industrial revolution took place within a capitalist framework and it occurred in a society that has made a special contribution to the development of constitutional government.  Both factors have a particular relevance to our own history.  Whether one interprets the origin of industrial capitalism in Britain as a tribute to the genius of free human beings, or as the enslavement of the human spirit to Western materialism and imperialism, or as something in between, it remains one of the crucial contributions of the West to the world's historical development.

Seminar Reading and Discussion

We will approach our subject through contemporary accounts--including poetry and a novel, classic 20th century historical interpretations, several recent studies offering new perspectives, and visits to important historical sites in England. While the reading list may look formidable, many of the books are short so that participants will have time to explore their own individual research interest. As an introduction to our subject, we will read and discuss a brief but excellent overview by Kenneth Morgan, The Birth of Industrial Britain: Social Change 1750-1850 (2004). We will then turn to selections from contemporary accounts by both critics and admirers of industrialization, such as Daniel Defoe, Arthur Young, William Cobbett and the classic early 19th century debate between a conservative poet, Robert Southey, and a liberal historian and essayist, Thomas Babington Macaulay. We will also read selected poetry by William Blake and William Wordsworth and examine visual images by artists of the period. You will find an extensive selection of primary source material, both printed and visual images, on the seminar’s web site at The final contemporary work we will study is Charles Dickens' classic and influential novel Hard Times (1854).

All the other works to be analyzed are 20th century and more recent interpretations.  We will discuss John L. and Barbara Hammond, The Town Labourer: The New Civilization, 1760-1832 (1917).  This is the most important contribution to the critical, or pessimistic, interpretation of the social consequences of industrialization in the first half of the 20th century by two well-known liberal reformers.  Next we will evaluate T. S. Ashton, The Industrial Revolution, 1760-1830 (1948, 1997 ed.).  This essay, by a British 'liberal' economic historian, offers a much more optimistic interpretation of industrialization's social consequences.  Next, we will study the early chapters of Industry and Empire (1969, 2nd ed. 1999) by the noted British socialist historian, E. J. Hobsbawm.  We will supplement Hobsbawm’s emphasis on the role of international trade and Empire in the origin of British industrialization with several scholarly articles on this theme, which has recently re-emerged within the context of a contemporary debate about economic growth and globalization.

Reflecting an important shift in modern historiography toward a more inclusive social history of industrialization, we will discuss Katrina Honeyman, Women, Gender and Industrialisation in England, 1700-1870 (2000). Another important aspect of recent interpretations of the origin of industrialization is its emphasis upon demand as well as supply. It was the high wage European economy, as well as the relatively broad distribution of wealth in its bourgeois societies that produced a ‘consumer revolution’ that made demand effective.  For this topic we will use Jan de Vries, pioneering article, “The Industrial Revolution and the Industrious Revolution” (1994) and Maxine Berg’s influential 2004 essay, “In Pursuit of Luxury: Global History and British Consumer Goods in the Eighteenth Century.”  Reflecting a more global approach to the study of British industrialization, de Vries insists that the subject must be understood in a broader process of modernization that “involved more than industrial production, unfolded in a European zone larger than England, and began well before the 18th century.” Taking up this theme, our last major work will be Robert C. Allen, The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (2009). Allen has created a mathematical and statistical model based on data collected by generations of historians of early modern economies and explains why it took place in Europe rather than in advanced areas of Asia. His book is an excellent example of the persuasiveness of the new economic history when its conclusions are presented in plain English. He argues that the first industrial revolution occurred in northwestern Europe because its high wages during the early modern period encouraged technological innovation, and that it took place in Britain because of its abundant and cheap coal resources, combined with the central government’s ability to use mercantilist policies and naval power to reap the greatest benefits from an expanding European and world trade. For a detailed syllabus, see the seminar website,

Museum and site visits

We will bring to life the people, social context, technology and material reality of industrialization in Britain by visiting historical sites and museums in England.  Pictures of and links to many of the sites are available at With the expert guidance of Mr. Haydon Luke, a former English teacher and Headmaster at a secondary school, and now a museum and educational consultant, we will make six full day excursions and one three-day trip.  During our first week in London, we will walk through the historic financial and trade center of the City of London and visit museums, such as the Museum of London, the Docklands Museum, the National Maritime Museum, the Victorian & Albert Museum, and the National Science Museum to learn about the crucial role the city and port of London played in England’s economic development even before the age of factories. 

For four weeks the seminar will be based in Nottingham. Situated in the East Midlands. It is an excellent location in which to visualize and explore the experience of industrialization.  While the city played an important role in England's industrialization and contains museums and other physical evidence that illustrates this role, it has escaped much of the industrial blight that characterizes some other pioneering English industrial cities and is surrounded by lovely countryside.  On our way to visit important industrial history sites in the Midlands and the North of England, we will see evidence of the "rose covered cottages" and ancient field and village patterns, as well as the severe stone mills and housing of industrial towns set within green valleys, which Southey and Macaulay sparred about nearly two hundred years ago.

For our London visits, we will ride the Underground but we will use a chartered coach for our trips from Nottingham. We will begin by visiting the most important industrial archeology site in Britain, Ironbridge Gorge.  During the 18th century the Derby family exploited the rich mineral resources of the Severn Gorge to smelt iron with coke and spanned the river with the world's first iron bridge.  The bridge still stands and the "Ironbridge" Gorge Museums have restored, recreated and interpreted the area's industrial history at several sites, including mining, smelting, forging, and pottery operations. Our next trip will concentrate on the early textile industry. We will visit the world's first successful water-powered cotton spinning mill, Richard Arkwright's 1771 mill in Cromford, which figures prominently in our texts. Located in the rural Derwent Valley, the complex required the construction of a factory town to house its workers.  Cromford still retains much of the housing built between 1770 and 1840 as well as the millpond, sluices, and canals. Crossing the Pennines, we will see an excellent example of the landscape that provided the waterpower that drove Britain’s early industry on our way to the National Trust's Quarry Mill Bank. This is the best-preserved water driven textile mill in Britain and features dozens of operating spinning and weaving machines.  We will also visit its Apprentice House, which was used to house Poor Law children who worked in the mill, and the adjacent model village of Styal built in the early 19th century for the mill’s workers.

On our third day trip from Nottingham, we will travel to Manchester, one of Britain's premier industrial cities during the 19th century.  Here we will visit the Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.  Part of the museum is housed in the oldest surviving passenger railroad station in the world. In addition to a large collection of working stationary steam engines and other industrial revolution era technology exhibits, the museum offers superb displays illustrating Manchester's efforts to deal with its explosive growth during the 19th century, including an extensive underground walk featuring the building of its sewage and water systems. The nearby Pump House offers the best display of artifacts on Chartism and labor history in Britain.  Finally we will walk through the city center to view important 19th century buildings, such as the Town Hall and the Free Trade Hall, and visit the City Art Gallery, which features a superb collection of late 18th and 19th century British art that illustrates the themes of our seminar.

In addition to these day-trips, during the fourth week of the seminar we will make a Wednesday to Friday trip to Yorkshire and the Northeast to study mining, early railroads and steel making.  On Wednesday and Thursday night we will stay at Durham University’s St. Aiden’s College, which is within walking distance of Durham’s magnificent cathedral. On our way north near Sheffield, we will visit Abbeydale scythe works, a well-preserved 18th century water powered steel workshop. In South Yorkshire, we will tour the National Mining Museum and descend into a deep mining pit for a guided walk by retired mineworkers. At Darlington in the Northeast, we will visit the original station for Britain’s first railway line, the Stockton & Darlington. The museum houses one of George Stephenson’s original steam locomotives. We will also visit Causey Arch in Tanfield, the oldest surviving railway bridge in the world.  It was built in 1725 to carry coal on wooden rails to the river Tyne for shipment. In Weardale, we will visit the Nenthead and Killhope Lead mining site and museum. The site includes a huge water wheel that drives crushing machinery as well as a fascinating walk into the mine.  Across the dales in Ebchester, we will visit the Derwentcote steel furnace.  Built in the 18th century, it is Britain’s earliest and most complete steel making furnace to have survived intact.  On our return to Nottingham we will visit Britain’s National Railway Museum in York with its magnificent collection of steam engines, rolling stock (including Victoria’s royal train) and railway exhibits.  Since our guide has excellent connections in English museum circles, we will benefit from special presentations and tours by museum staff at most sites. See the syllabus on the seminar website for a detailed calendar of the site visits,

Questions to be asked

We will seek to use the reading and site visits to ask broad interpretive questions. Why did our authors choose to write about the industrial revolution?  Why did they emphasize some topics and neglect others? How does the physical evidence help us understand issues raised by the texts?  What kind of sources did the authors use and how did they use them?  We will also ask larger questions such as: What can these texts tell us about the nature of the historical discipline? What contributions have literature, economics, sociology and industrial archeology made to our understanding of the experience of industrialization?  Why do the humanistic interpretations tend to be pessimistic while those of the social scientists appear much more optimistic?  Is it possible that interpretations of the industrial revolution have been not just the scribbling of obscure scholars and of anonymous teachers in countless school and college classrooms, but have exerted, and continue to exert, a powerful influence on the shaping of an historical consciousness and public policy?  While it is often said that historical scholarship is about the past, does our analysis of interpretations of the industrial revolution suggest that for many historians its real purpose was about the construction of a usable past to influence society’s future prospects?

Seminar Organization and Optional Academic Credit

 Our seminar will be organized to foster a comfortable and collegial intellectual atmosphere that will emphasize the raising of broad and significant questions.  The seminar discussion meetings will be from 9:00 a.m. to noon, with a break for coffee, three days per week. The seminar meetings will be devoted to a wide-ranging discussion of the issues raised by the readings and site visits.  My role will be to organize the seminar, to encourage discussion, to listen, to comment, and to help you with your preparation.  It will not be a lecture course but a seminar in which everyone participates.  I will be available to meet with individuals or small groups on seminar meeting days as well as informally at lunch, for walks and in the pub in the evening.  Participants will form into four cooperative learning groups. Each group will take turns leading the discussion on the texts to be discussed, present context for the authors, provide material on related topics and engage the seminar in a variety of learning strategies.  Ample collateral reading is available for reference at the Institute for Historical Research in London and at the Nottingham University library.  As an historian and teacher I have found that the process of writing is crucial to learning. Each participant will be asked to keep a journal in which to record daily reactions to the reading and discussions.  A few participants will be asked to share these reactions during each meeting.  Each participant will write two essays (about a thousand words), or work on one larger project, on chosen seminar texts or topics.  The projects may be either interpretive or research essays, or lesson plans that include an analytical explanatory essay.  Projects will be discussed within each cooperative learning group. They will be presented to the seminar as a whole during the last two seminar meetings.  I will read and comment on all projects and publish them on our web-site This web site will also serve as a convenient communication device before and after the seminar and provides many resources for the teaching of the subject in the schools.

Should you wish to use your participation in this NEH summer seminar for in-service or graduate credit, I will be happy to send a letter to your school for in-service credit explaining the work you did in the seminar.  If you wish, I can register you for three graduate credits in History at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.  The latter will require you to pay fees of about $600 to UMass Dartmouth.

My background, qualifications, and context of the seminar in my work

The interpretation of the industrial revolution in Britain has been central to my teaching and research.  I directed eight previous NEH seminars on the British Industrial Revolution at the University of Nottingham that received excellent evaluations from the participants while I found them to be the most rewarding professional activities of my career.  Born in The Netherlands, I came to the United States as a young teenager and maintained an interest in matters European. As an undergraduate I studied history and economics with a particular interest in the relationship between the developed and less developed world. In graduate school I concentrated on the history of the British Isles with a special interest in intellectual history and the history of economic thought.  I have taught a wide variety of courses and seminars in British and Modern European history with an emphasis on economic and intellectual history, the history of European women, and historiography. While I have taught a variety of students, I especially enjoy working with teachers in our Master of Arts in Teaching program, which I directed for many years. As a scholar, I have concentrated on the connections between economic ideas, economic history, politics and society in modern Britain. I have held several research fellowships, published scholarly articles, presented scholarly papers, and an academic book, English Historical Economics, 1870-1926: The Rise of Economic History and Neomercantilism (Cambridge University Press: 1987).  I am currently doing research on the relationship between empire, international trade and industrialization with a special emphasis on the Dutch Republic and Britain and their leadership of the early modern European led world-trading system.

As both a teacher and scholar, I have become skeptical of the ever-increasing specialization in both scholarship and teaching.  I find it particularly troubling that economists increasingly ignore history and that historians and humanists too readily neglect economic ideas. I have found, however, that the thorough and sympathetic discussion of some of the most influential interpretations of the crucial process of industrialization offers an excellent opportunity for humanists to reflect on some of the central concerns shared by economists and social scientists. Moreover, I am convinced that an interdisciplinary and broad study of the historiography of the first industrial revolution remains an excellent preparation for providing an essential perspective as humanity attempts to understand and how to deal with the benefits and challenges of the globalization of industrial society.

Accommodations, Costs, University Facilities

In London accommodations will be at Schafer House in Bloomsbury, a University of London suite style residence with 3-5 private bedrooms per suite plus a kitchen and bathroom facilities. Our seminar meetings in London will be at the Institute of Historical Research. The Institute is housed in the University of London Senate House, which is a fifteen-minute walk from our residence and near the British Museum. The University of Nottingham is a medium size institution situated on a large American style campus in a park setting of lawns and gardens overlooking the river Trent.  Included is an ornamental lake where rowboats may be hired.  For pictures see   It is situated in an attractive residential section of Nottingham, adjacent to the village center of Beeston.  Accommodations, as well as our seminar and dining rooms, will be in Rutland Hall. This is a traditional dormitory arranged around an internal courtyard. It is surrounded by open-space and adjacent to an extensive University sports complex, which includes pool and exercise equipment to which you will have access. The Hall is a ten-minute walk from the University Library and campus center facilities. The housing available offers standard British university dormitory accommodations.  All accommodations are in single occupancy rooms, which include a washbasin and a telephone.  Towels and linens are provided.  Bath and toilet facilities are in close proximity.  There are several kitchens with a range, refrigerator, and teakettle.  Rutland Hall has a TV room, a licensed bar, and coin operated laundry machines. There will be extra rooms available for visiting guests at Bed and Breakfast rates. Participants in previous seminars have found communal living and dining arrangements a crucial benefit of the seminar experience.

My experience also tells me that you will not go hungry at Rutland Hall (previous participants have found the meals quite good).  Breakfast and lunch are served in the large dining hall while dinner will be served in our own private dining room. Menus are quite varied, extensive and include vegetarian options.  For our three-day trip to the Northeast we will stay in single bedrooms in a modern residence hall at St. Aiden’s College, Durham University, which is within walking distance of Durham city center and its magnificent cathedral. Meals included for the seminar in Nottingham and Durham consist of a full English breakfast everyday; dinner from Sundays through Thursday evenings; a full lunch on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; and a packed lunch on trip days.  In addition, mid-morning coffee and juice will be included on seminar days.  Meals not provided can be purchased on campus as well as at nearby pubs and restaurants.  A bank and ATM, a convenience store, and bookshop are located on campus.  There is a health clinic on campus as well as a large university hospital adjacent. Except for a welcome dinner, no meals will be provided in London. There are, however, plenty of eating facilities within walking distance and participants can cook their own meals in London in the suite kitchens if desired.

As you are probably aware, an extended stay in Britain can be quite expensive.  NEH will provide you with a $3,900 stipend to help you pay for seminar expenses.

All your housing, and most meals, as explained above, in Nottingham and Durham, will cost about $3,100 at October 2011 exchange rates, leaving you with $800 toward your travel expenses. NEH funds will also pay for your field-trip travel expenses while in England. Thus, since your international travel expenses and your travel between Nottingham and London, as well as your additional meal expenses, are likely to exceed $800, you will have to make a modest commitment of your own funds to cover all your expenses. Participants will receive a check for the balance of your stipend, about $700 at current exchange rates, in late May.

Before your departure for England, I will mail you photocopied documents, a detailed syllabus and travel directions. Participants will have reference use of the superb Institute for Historical Research library in London and the University’s Hallward library in Nottingham. The latter is a research facility of over a million volumes housed in a modern building that offers excellent study space.  Its resources in British economic and social history, and related areas, are particularly strong. Participants will also have access to the university library's electronic resources, including e-mail facilities. In addition, participants can consult the holdings at Nottingham's large municipal research library in the city center.

Nottingham, central England, and Extracurricular Activities

Since the participants, including the director, will be housed together, we hope to establish a collegial atmosphere conducive to both learning and relaxed interchange.  On Sunday evening, June 24, we will have a welcome dinner and social gathering at pub restaurant in London.  On the Thursday evening before our departure on Friday, July 27, we will hold a farewell dinner and party.

Our accommodations in London are at the Northern end of Bloomsbury, several blocks from he Warren Street and Euston Square Underground stops in central London. It is within walking distance of the British Library, the British Museum, the many restaurants and pubs of Soho and one of London’s great public parks, Regents Park. Nottingham University is located three miles from the city center.  There is frequent and excellent bus service between the city center and the university.  Nottingham is a city of about 300,000 inhabitants located in the East Midlands.  It contains a large castle, many Victorian buildings and a modern city center shopping district. The castle houses an art museum, a municipal history museum, a museum of domestic arts and crafts, and a medieval castle complete with secret passages and the lore of Robin Hood.  The city includes a large central market place, two large modern city center shopping malls, and a large pedestrian precinct with many historic buildings and small shops. The city has an excellent legitimate theater, a concert hall, and several cinemas. There are of course many good pubs.  Closer to the subject of the seminar, Nottingham has a block of restored 19th century working class housing open to the public, a brewery museum, a well known lace center, a costume and textile museum, and an inland canal basin. The city has several large parks, including one across the street from the university, at the center of which is Wollaton Hall, which houses exhibits on the region's industrial and natural history, including operating steam engines.  In the surrounding area one can visit numerous historic houses and gardens, including Byron's Newstead Abbey. The nearby countryside offers large country parks, such as Sherwood Forest, as well as towpaths for walking along the Trent.

A bit further afield, but easily reached on a day trip by train or bus, are the many miles of marked walking paths in the Derbyshire Peak District National Park and such historic cities as Lincoln, Southwell, and York with magnificent cathedrals.  Also within easy reach are interesting industrial cities, many of which have undergone significant revitalizations during the last two decades, such as Leicester, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, and Derby. All of these contain interesting buildings and museums illustrating the history of the region.   Nottingham is one hour and thirty minutes by express train from London, two hours from Manchester or York, and an hour from Leeds.

Applications and Deadlines

Application information is or is available from Should you decide to apply to this seminar, your completed application should be postmarked no later than Monday, March 1, 2012, and should be addressed to me as follows:

                        Gerard M. Koot
                        History Department, NEH Seminar
                        University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
                        285 Old Westport Road
                        North Dartmouth, MA 02747

Perhaps the most important part of the seminar application is the essay that must be submitted as part of the application.  This essay should include relevant personal and academic information; your reasons for applying to the seminar; your interest, both academic and personal, in the subject of the seminar; reasons for applying to the particular project; your qualifications to do the work of the seminar and make a contribution to it; and the relation of the seminar to your teaching and other career objectives.

Should you be interested in applying to this seminar and have further questions, do not hesitate to get in touch with me.  My e-mail address is  You can also call me at (508 999-8305). I look forward to your application and am confident that an interesting and varied group will spend five stimulating and pleasant weeks at Nottingham next summer learning a good deal from each other, discussing the transition from an agrarian to an industrial society, and enjoying some of the pleasures of an English summer.